Varsity seizes its own moment

Varsity seizes its own moment

ROMA – BEATING seasoned African universities in a race to an esteemed prize is as difficult as nailing jelly to a tree.
But that’s exactly what the National University of Lesotho (NUL) did.

It beat all other African universities in a competition run by RUFORUM claiming half a million maloti prize in the process.
In the words of Moeketsi Phalatsi, a parasitologist and one of the researchers in this project from the Department of Biology and Biotechnology, “we were thrilled when we were told that we did not only win the prize, but that the NUL project had gained the most points compared to all other competitors”.
The money secured is already achieving great things.

Two Masters students’ are working in the Faculty of Agriculture and four undergraduate students are involved.
Tens of farmers in the districts of Maseru and Quthing, in all of their three ecological zones of Lesotho, are part of the study.
You will be fascinated to learn how it all started.

“We first had a small project sponsored under NUL funds and Professor Mpho Phoofolo, the NUL’s entomologist, suggested that we expand and apply to RUFORUM,” Phalatsi showed.
“The project tracks the prevalence of internal gut parasites of Lesotho’s sheep and goats.”
They say, “Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.”

If you wanted to know the secret of NUL’s newfound success, look no further than this theory.
Apparently, the school is no longer waiting for a perfect moment — that utopian time when the country would suddenly understand the importance of research and innovation as the only engine for development and start pouring money into the school’s coffers.

Rather, the school is using the little it already has to create miracles. But here is another secret behind the success of the project.
It is based on the power of teamwork, the backbone of innovation.

That is why the project that started in the Department of Biology ended up in the Faculty of Agriculture.
“We understand that all men are of a limited knowledge and have limited resources. We could hardly achieve anything if we acted alone,” Phalatsi said.

So he and Professor Phoofolo joined forces with another astute team in the Faculty of Agriculture, made of Dr Setsomi Molapo and Dr Puleng Matebesi-Ranthimo.
Take close note — here is the farsightedness that landed NUL on the top cream.

“We were told that our combined team beat the rest for at least three reasons,” Phalatsi says. From the start, the research was not for the community. Rather, it was with the community. There is a difference.

The first approach is built on the perception of the community as a passive receiver of “good” things from the academics.
The second views the community as an active participant and an owner of the research.

According to Phalatsi, “since we decided to involve the goats and sheep farmers and farmers’ associations from day one, our project impressed the judges very much”.
In this project, farmers are allowed to practice their farming in a business-as-usual manner.

However, their practices are closely followed with questionnaires, seeking to understand how such practices might influence the prevalence of parasites.
Then the sheep and goats’ fecal matter are analysed in the lab for prevalence of parasites, comparing Lesotho’s three ecological zones, and the seasonality of the parasites.
Secondly, the project engaged the Ministry of Agriculture from day one, along with agricultural extension agents.

“The idea,” says Phalatsi, “was not only to have farmers involved, but also those people responsible for assisting farmers.”
That was yet another layer that would ensure the success of the project since, as Phalatsi would put it, “it would not be difficult to roll out recommendations of the project in which all relevant stakeholders were involved.”

The last factor involved the police and the area chiefs.  They were fully engaged in the project.
Not only out of courtesy because the study would focus on the land under their jurisdiction but also because the study had to change the accepted animals security features.
For instance, the study had to ensure the marking of the sheep and goats with ear tags for identification of the selected animals, something that would otherwise go against the normal security identification practices.

When they applied, the members of the NUL team had no idea what would distinguish their project.  But the team had faith that if they put enough effort, they would make a difference.
The result was a project that rivaled and beat the rest in Africa.

Own Correspondent

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